Resident Evil has become the male edition of Twilight; the frame work is the same, just reversed. Take away the suffocating toxicity of the romance and shirtless hunks, replaced by unproductive action and females coated in skin tight leather. The appeal is wholly masculine, dried up in intelligence while shooting for the hip of every 16-year old in the audience.
This is now the fifth pointless run through Paul W.S. Anderson’s insipid film adaption of the video game. Each has tried to blend the Capcom series with pinpoint accurate costumes while damning the rest of the elements. The clash of Japanese and American stylings are egregious. Alice (Milla Jovovich) continues her anti-zombie rampage as a super human who walks into disjointed action scenes to spin kick on wires, flip fashionably, and blow out brains. How audiences have yet to get their fill from this messy debacle is worthy of an eager college student’s psychology term paper.
Retribution finds Alice under the sea after a barge assault, and unfortunately not with singing crabs and mermaids. That would be a stupidly welcome change of pace. Instead, the villainous Umbrella Corporation has captured her (again), sticking her in their technologically sound test facility, complete with mirrored facades of Russia, Japan, and New York. Through the hail of gunfire and repetitious fights, nothing is expanded upon; the movie exits to shoot blanks at the screen while dizzying techno blares in the subwoofer.
Each of these dazzlingly doltish films has produced a handful of memorable action set pieces, the best here a fight in a crystalline hallway as Alice rumbles with some zombies outside of the Japanese faux reality. Slow motion leaps, upside down gun shots, and chain fighting are accessibly moronic, flashy for the sake of it, if visually arresting. However, Alice is never in any sensible danger no matter how hard Resident Evil tries to convincingly flatline her. She is too central in the wildly fluctuating narrative – one that needs to explain itself post-credits with stock footage before it can continue.
There are plentiful zombies, of course, bumbling beings who puke up blood to the delight of horror fans. Zombies are classic when done right, existing to be dispatched in gruesomely creative ways. Resident Evil, as a franchise, has managed to bungle that as well, setting up the characters to fight human-on-human battles that see Sienna Guillory standing still, firing blindly towards walls.
A spec ops crew, consisting of video game faces Leon Kennedy (Johann Urb) and Barry Burton (Kevin Durand), break into the facility, their goal of rescuing Alice rather futile. It’s not as if Alice hasn’t been proven incapable of rescuing herself in the previous four films. Instead, the guys battle a hoard of Russian military undead, hysterically standing out in the open while the lurching creatures fire mounted machine guns towards their position without so much as a glancing shot. If they can survive with those tactics, Alice will be fine without their assistance. The enemy is not equipped to deal.
Alice is aided at her hip by Ada Wong (Bingbing Li), fitted with an impractical (and game accurate) red evening dress as the pair battle two ax-wielding masked crazies in a replica Times Square. Never mind the previous film did this, Retribution going so far as to mirror a 3D effect from Afterlife. No matter how nifty it is, the feeling of been there, done that is oppressive. It is high time to retire this messy franchise, or at least place someone else at its helm.
A product of the Red Epic, this digital offering goes digging for definition, and rarely finds it. Lackluster high-fidelity detail sags as faces appear smooth, even when the lighting is conducive to producing small textures. Sharpness is spot on, brilliantly so even, but the disc never finds a place for the truly defining characteristics.
Plotting situations, thin as they often are, allow the palette to prop itself up in various locations. Even in the dark, the dizzying neon of the slim Japanese street scene and New York recreation are pure saturation splendor. Early shots depict a quaint home life, warmly glazed without dashing hopes for flesh tones. Closing scenes are buzzed with blues, lightly chilled and dimming the contrast for a snowy finale.
Black levels are outstanding and important given how much of the piece takes place underground in simulated night. Shadow detail is delineated well, difficult given Alice’s black suit that could be primed for crush. On the other side, the sterling white interiors that connect the simulation rooms offer superior contrast, heated whites that hit home to create the needed impact and cleanliness.
Despite the detail disappointment, it is the 3D that hampers enjoyment the most. Afterlife was ludicrously aggressive to the point where the few dialogue scenes did not matter. Slow motion was abusive, and every action scene flung things at the camera. The 3D exploitation has not only dropped off (although it is still here in some capacity), the overall depth is lacking. Best moments are low camera angles that peer down hallways, say a subway line late. The sense of additional dimension is wonderful. It is a wonder why it misses so hard elsewhere, with barely any sense of layering.
There are little details to take in. A rain effect is sharply handled, and the snow during the climatic brawl is enjoyable to give the sequence a jump over the prior ones. When utilized, the slow motion material is wildly goofy, with bullets panning deep out of the frame, or bloody brain matter scattering as the penetration commences. This is too spotty for a series that ensnared itself in the tech so heavily.
Over company logos, Retribution pushes the sound meter up with helicopters whipping around the soundfield. There are no visuals, but placement is exceptional. As expected, this is an insanely forceful audio mix, the DTS-HD encoding pushing itself through with hearty amounts of machine gun fire, booming explosions where needed, and a techno soundtrack that throbs.
Still, this is surprisingly reserved, comparatively of course. Retribution goes for gusto without pushing itself over the painful mark. Balance is appreciated amongst the countless elements, from zombie groans sweeping around the frame and well placed bullet impacts. A massive flood is caused in the facility as the third act is set up, and while the visual effects are a downer, the audio picks up to sell the destruction. This is a mix you can close your eyes too and still place every element.
Some classic films are unable to receive two commentaries, yet Retribution apparently needed them. Director Paul W.S. Anderson is on both, first with actors Milla Jovovich & Boris Kodjoe, the second along with producer Jeremy Bolt. Five deleted/extended scenes show some actual restraint, action scenes snipped slightly. A short round of outtakes (and in 3D) have a few laughs. Sony packs on some trailers and calls it a night.
Note: The 2D edition hosts a number of additional bonuses.